Tuesday, June 9, 2009

iyomante: adventures in re-titling

With the final revision of my translation of Iyomante: meguru inochi no okurimo (Iyomante: the gift of the cycle of life) safely in the publisher's hands, I let myself relax and unwind for a few days, knowing full well that the lull would not last long. My team members and I had made a list of possible English titles, our first choice being "Iyomante: the Ainu and the Bear." Not very catchy, I admit, but we wanted to retain the Ainu word for the bear-sending ceremony, and also make it fit with our previously published translation, The Ainu and the Fox. The proposed title had already been cleared with the original author, and the illustrator had agreed to draw a new cover illustration that prominently featured a bear (as the original cover was deemed too subtle for English readers). Sure enough, I received a call late last night from our team leader saying that the publisher was advising us to change our title. "Potential buyers will glaze over at the foreign word in the title and pass the book by," he had said. He would know. He's been successfully marketing English translations of Japanese storybooks for a long time. The publisher suggested just plain The Ainu and the Bear. The problem, from our point of view, was that Iyomante was not the simple children's-story-with-a-message that The Ainu and the Fox had been. While Iyomante imitates the yukar style, it isn't actually one of the stories in the Ainu oral tradition designed to be chanted by the tribal storyteller. It is the work of a modern writer for the purpose of informing modern readers about the bear-sending ceremony and the cultural values represented in that controversial, and frequently misunderstood, tradition. We chewed on the problem for a while, and finally came up with a compromise title: The Ainu and the Bear (in large letters) subtitled with the gift of the cycle of life (in small letters). Whether the publisher will accept this compromise remains to be seen.